Tough travel in District for Memorial Day weekend

When tens of thousands of visitors reach the nation’s capital for Memorial Day weekend events, most road repair crews will be off, but Metro has scheduled a track repair project that will shut down four D.C. stations, including the one closest to the RFK Stadium grounds, the site of a four-day festival for motorcyclists.

The transit authority often schedules such shutdowns on holiday weekends to give its workers time to finish big projects. But few occur on weekends when Washington plays host to so many.

Prospective attendees from across the nation who are heading to the Stars & Stripes & Spokes festival at RFK may have read this advice on the festival’s Web site: “The event is served by the Stadium-Armory Metro Station Blue and Orange lines so you can easily come to the event and still go see all the National Monuments and other sites in D.C. during Memorial Day weekend.”

They will be disappointed, and not just because their cycles aren’t allowed on trains. Stadium-Armory will be shut Friday night through Monday night, along with Capitol South, Eastern Market and Potomac Avenue. There will be no service on the Blue and Orange lines between Federal Center SW and Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road. That includes the part of the rail system that would link them with the monuments, memorial events, downtown hotels and restaurants.

Jim Hughes, Metro’s planning director for such maintenance activities, said the RFK festival is a new factor with an unknown impact on transit and traffic. But he was confident in the ability of the free shuttle bus system that Metro sets up to bridge interruptions in service on long weekends.

Rail service on the western side of the disruption, the Mall side, will be as it normally is on weekends. Trains on the eastern side of the lines are scheduled to run 25 minutes apart.

Here are some travel tips for those planning to attend the festival and other Memorial Day weekend events:

Rail service

The two lines will be split from 10 p.m. Friday through the midnight closing Sunday.

The Orange Line will operate between Vienna and Federal Center SW every 15 to 20 minutes and between New Carrollton and Minnesota Avenue about every 24 minutes. The Blue Line will operate between Franconia-Springfield and Federal Center SW about every 15 to 20 minutes and between Largo Town Center and Benning Road about every 24 minutes.

The centerpiece of the weekend work is the replacement of four track switches at the Eastern Market Station. Such projects are so complex that they require three days of continuous work to complete. The logistics of creating a safe work space, setting up the train lines to operate in separate sections and providing shuttle buses to bridge the gaps result in the closing of more than one station.

When the transit authority schedules such a big shutdown, it also crams in as much other work as time and space allow. So crews will be replacing 700 track fasteners, making repairs to the aerial structure outside the Stadium-Armory Station, and fixing 25 escalators and eight elevators in the work zone.

Shuttle buses

Metro will operate free shuttle buses to bridge the gaps between the stations in the work zone. The shuttles will be scheduled to meet each arriving train.

Orange Line shuttle: The buses will operate between Federal Center SW and Minnesota Avenue, making stops at Capitol South, Eastern Market, Potomac Avenue, Stadium-Armory and Minnesota Avenue stations along the way.

Blue Line shuttle: The buses will operate between Federal Center SW and Benning Road, making stops at Capitol South, Eastern Market, Potomac Avenue, Stadium-Armory and Benning Road.

Red Line service

Metro also plans weekend maintenance that will require Red Line trains to share a track between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor from 10 p.m. Friday through Memorial Day. They also will share a track at various locations between Judiciary Square and Takoma from 10 p.m. Friday through the midnight closing Sunday.

Throughout the weekend, trains will leave the ends of the line, at Shady Grove and Glenmont, about every 24 minutes. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, service will be more frequent through the interior portion of the line. Trains are scheduled to arrive about every 12 minutes between Friendship Heights and Judiciary Square. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Memorial Day, trains will arrive about every 12 minutes between Friendship Heights and Silver Spring.

Tips for travelers

l Riders planning on using the shuttle buses from end to end should add about 40 minutes to their schedules, Metro says.

But it’s going to be particularly challenging getting through the RFK Stadium area with its festival traffic. Travelers on the east side of the region should consider driving to the ends of the Green Line at Branch Avenue or Greenbelt and starting their Metrorail rides from there.

l Riders who normally use stations on the east side of the Red Line also might consider driving over to Greenbelt Station.

l Metro’s Trip Planner, the usually helpful guide on Metro’s Web site at www.wmata.com , does not account for these maintenance delays.

l Friday night, when the station shutdowns start, is usually the most difficult time for riders. Plan your trip carefully, checking on the times for the last trains.

Weekend events

These are a few of the Memorial Day weekend events that will draw big crowds:

Stars & Stripes & Spokes: Various activities are scheduled for Friday through Memorial Day on the RFK Stadium grounds. Admission is free for everyone, and parking is free for people on motorcycles. Expect traffic congestion on the approach roads to the stadium.

Rolling Thunder: The annual motorcyclists’ tribute to veterans will organize Sunday morning in the Pentagon parking lot and at noon will proceed to the District via the Memorial Bridge and Constitution Avenue for a gathering near the Reflecting Pool and Korean War Memorial. Expect street closings in the area and limited parking.

Memorial Day parade: Begins at 2 p.m. Monday at Seventh Street NW and proceeds west along Constitution Avenue to 17th Street NW.

Memorial Day wreath layings: World War II Memorial, 9 a.m. Monday; Air Force Memorial, 9 a.m. Monday; Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery, 11 a.m. Monday.

Washington Nationals: There’s baseball through the weekend at Nationals Park.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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